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Shortly after the outbreak of World War I in Europe, Howard H. Emmert established Berkeley Woolen Company in Martinsburg. Other principal stockholders were from Martinsburg, nearby Winchester, Virginia, and New York City. By December 1914, the West Virginia company employed 185 men and 36 women. During World War I, workers manufactured cloth for the French army and uniforms and overcoats for the U.S. Army. With its wartime profits, Berkeley Woolen added new buildings that included a dye house and other improvements that enabled the company to double its capacity.

From the end of World War I to the 1930s, the company manufactured men’s suits. During the late 1930s, topcoats and women’s clothing were added to the line of products. Berkeley Woolen Company managed to keep its doors open throughout the Great Depression. In 1933, Berkeley employees walked out when management refused to recognize the United Textile Workers as the workers’ bargaining agent. Hostilities escalated for several months until the National Labor Review Board intervened in early September. After several days of negotiations, Berkeley employees returned to work, thus ending the city’s first textile strike.

The 1933 settlement generally favored the union, although problems continued. The following year, Berkeley Woolen’s employees participated in another strike, as did workers at the city’s other woolen mill and hosiery company. The work force had grown to 375. The second strike lasted for the better part of a year. Following this confrontation, working relations at the woolen mill remained relatively stable throughout the rest of the decade and into the 1940s.

In World War II, Berkeley Woolen once again manufactured clothing for the war effort. Profits soared, but the prosperity was short-lived. Soon after the war ended, the company began experiencing serious financial difficulties. The small plant could not compete against larger operations, and in 1949 the company closed its operation in Martinsburg. Within four years, Dunn Woolen, Martinsburg’s other woolen manufacturer, also closed its doors, and woolen production was no longer a part of the city economy.

This Article was written by Jerra Jenrette

Last Revised on December 22, 2010

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Cite This Article

Jenrette, Jerra "Berkeley Woolen Mills." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 22 December 2010. Web. 23 October 2018.

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